“In over 20 years as a police officer, I have never met a cop who started his day or went to a call with the intention of shooting a dog,” says former K-9 trainer/officer and ex-Police Chief Harold Holmes.
“Most dog shootings by police officers result from the owner’s failure to properly confine a dog while officers are on the premises or nearby, placing the officers in a rapidly unfolding situation with an uncontrolled canine approaching and no alternative but to use deadly force," Holmes said, who is now a Southern California attorney. "The public often has unrealistic expectations based upon the luxury of unlimited opportunity to analyze a few brief moments recorded from outside a scene in which there are far greater dangers than are apparent to the camera. The officers’ first duty is their personal safety and the safety of other officers so that they, in turn, can protect the public.”
On Friday, Police Chief Robert Fager announced that he has called on the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department to conduct an independent investigation of the shooting of a Rottweiler by one of Hawthorne Police Department’s officers. The incident was captured by witnesses on video that went viral and has almost 5 million viewers, reports the Los Angeles Daily News.
In a letter to the community, Fager assured that the police department will remain "accountable to any and all actions we undertake" in the aftermath of the shooting, which occurred at 137th Street and Jefferson Blvd. on June 30.
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The Daily News reported on July 4 that Anonymous, the computer-hacking activist group, purportedly announced worldwide via a YouTube video its intention to retaliate against the Hawthorne Police and the Department confirmed a cyberattack crippled the city’s website for several days.
"We are not sure who is responsible, but there was a DDOS, or distributed denial of service, attack," said a police source on the condition of anonymity. Distributed denial of service attacks have long been a favored method employed by Anonymous,” reports the Daily News.
Fager wrote in his letter, distributed widely to the media, that he has begun assembling a "use-of-force analysis group" to review the police department's interactions with animals and will include input from the SPCAla and other animal rights groups, the Department of Justice Community-Orientated Policing Office and the National Canine Research Council.
"Methodologies, prevention and force options will be assessed and implemented to offer both the officers and animals alike, safer outcomes," Fager wrote.
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“It is always good to ask for outside assistance during an investigation of an officer-involved shooting to instill public confidence in the reliability of the outcome,” Holmes said.
Charges will still be sought against Leon Rosby, who brought his 2-year-old Rotttweiler named Max to a crime scene as officers were trying to get a known armed robbery suspect out of a home in which he had barricaded himself.
In the video, Rosby is shown walking into a crime-scene area with his dog with loud music blasting in the background. Reportedly, Hawthorne police officers had asked him to move his vehicle and turn off the loud music which could interfere with officer and public safety during efforts to remove the suspect.
Rosby is shown in a confrontation with police officers as he walked back toward them after putting the Rottweiler in his car with the windows down. The 80-pound dog is barking at the officers from the car and then jumps out of the window and approaches in a threatening manner. The dog lunges at officers several times and appears to become more confident. There is no indication that the dog is going to retreat — although reportedly commanded to return to the car by Rosby, who was handcuffed. As the dog moved forward and directly lunged toward an officer, he shot the dog four times.
Chief Fager writes, “Continue to be assured that even through this trying and scrutinizing period, our commitment to professionalism, accountability and optimum public safety service remains preeminent."
Police departments are responsible for the safety of officers and innocent parties during any criminal investigation. If the dog had attacked the officer and seriously harmed him and perhaps others, at what point would the public have approved shooting the dog?
Experts agree that assessing body language in a threatening animal cannot absolutely predict its subsequent behavior. Police officers often have only a split second to make a decision on whether the animal will or will not attack. In this instance, it appears that the Rottweiler, a breed known as a protection or guard dog, is not backing away from his intention to confront and escalate his challenge to the officers. Tasers have a varying degree of first-use success in subduing a target but within seconds there is likelihood that the animal will flee, often into oncoming traffic, or to remain loose and agitated within the community, leaving the police department liable for any harm that might come to an innocent party.
“Providing basic training in canine behavior can be helpful, especially to officers who have no experience with dogs, but many dogs do not clearly communicate their intent to attack," Holmes said. "Any shooting of a dog is unfortunate, but the ultimate responsibility in this particular situation lies with the owner who had the option of leaving the scene safely with his dog.”